Arthur I. Cyr: President Trump’s Kenosha visit underscores importance of region
The visit of President Donald Trump to Southeast Wisconsin, highlighting Snap-on Tools, is significant at several levels. At the most apparent, Snap-on is a long-established, influential and profitable company which for many symbolizes the importance of quality craftsmanship, practical applied work, and tangible results. A significant portion of Trump’s electorate is made up of working people who hold -- or held -- factory production jobs.
During the visit, President Trump announced an executive order that emphasizes “buy American, hire American.” The rather vague language of the order requires agencies to “maximize” use of domestic materials. In reality, sharp distinctions between “domestic” and “foreign” are impossible for large corporations today. Snap-on is a global company, which sells -- and also employs and manufactures -- overseas as well as in the United States.
This underscores that the primary purpose of the visit was political. Republican Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by just over 22,000 votes in Wisconsin, but the state has usually gone for Democrats in recent decades. Barack Obama had a margin of 400,000 votes over John McCain in 2008, while John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 defeated George W. Bush by only 12,000 and 4,000 votes, respectively. Ronald Reagan was the last Republican to carry Wisconsin, back in 1984.
Historically, Republican presidential candidates tended to carry Wisconsin. In the 1850s, Whigs met in Ripon, Wisconsin, to found the new Republican Party. Robert La Follette of Wisconsin led influential Progressive Republican reformers early in the 20th century. After the Democratic Party and presidential nominee Franklin Roosevelt won a landslide election victory in 1932, a greatly strengthened base emerged for that party in northern states, including Wisconsin.
Regarding practical economic concerns, a global growth arena is transportation, and Southeast Wisconsin is directly involved. The greater Chicago metropolitan area represents one of the largest container ports in the world. Others at the top of the list are major Pacific ports in Asia, including Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Tianjin in China.
Our Great Lakes region has indirect Atlantic Ocean access through the St. Lawrence Seaway, but the great bulk of shipping moves through the Chicago metro area via rail and truck, plus some air freight. Modern containers make possible efficient intermodal movement that employs diverse means for transporting a single shipment.
The enormous new distribution facilities constructed by Amazon and Uline, and the steady movement of smaller companies including manufacturers to this area, are important evidence for this profound change. Snap-on and other established companies benefit as well, and so do working people in search of jobs.
Governor Mike Pence of Indiana, now the vice president, has been in the forefront of this change. In July 2014, his blue ribbon policy panel presented a comprehensive report on state transportation infrastructure. The document is notable of the large number of detailed, specific recommendations. These include comprehensive integration of all forms of existing transportation, including highways, rail, air and water traffic. Recommendations included altering long-term the structure of interstate freight trucks. There is evaluation and priority listing of proposals.
In early 2015, Pence proposed a $1 billion highway improvement program. Democrats made even more ambitious transportation proposals. Other midwestern states, including Wisconsin, have been less active.
In summary, relentless economic evolution in America brings political as well as commercial challenge -- and opportunities. Both Trump and Pence reflect aspects of this.
-- Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact at email@example.com.